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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Invited review: Breeding and ethical perspectives on genetically modified and genome edited cattle

Eriksson, Susanne; Jonas, Elisabeth; Rydhmer, Lotta; Röcklinsberg, Helena


The hot topic of genetic modification and genome editing is sometimes presented as a rapid solution to various problems in the field of animal breeding and genetics. These technologies hold potential for future use in agriculture but we need to be aware of difficulties in large-scale application and integration in breeding schemes. In this review, we discuss applications of both classical genetic modifications (GM) using vectors and genome editing in dairy cattle breeding. We use an interdisciplinary approach considering both ethical and animal breeding perspectives. Decisions on how to make use of these techniques need to be made based not only on what is possible, but on what is reasonable to do. Principles of animal integrity, naturalness, risk perception, and animal welfare issues are examples of ethically relevant factors to consider. These factors also influence public perception and decisions about regulations by authorities. We need to acknowledge that we lack complete understanding of the genetic background of complex traits. It may be difficult, therefore, to predict the full effect of certain modifications in large-scale breeding programs. We present 2 potential applications: genome editing to dispense with dehorning, and insertion of human genes in bovine genomes to improve udder health as an example of classical GM. Both of these cases could be seen as beneficial for animal welfare but they differ in other aspects. In the former case, a genetic variant already present within the species is introduced, whereas in the latter case, transgenic animals are generated-this difference may influence how society regards the applications. We underline that the use of GM, as well as genome editing, of farm animals such as cattle is not independent of the context, and should be considered as part of an entire process, including, for example, the assisted reproduction technology that needs to be used. We propose that breeding organizations and breeding companies should take an active role in ethical discussions about the use of these techniques and thereby signal to society that these questions are being responsibly addressed.


genome editing; genetic modification; cattle; ethics; breeding program

Published in

Journal of Dairy Science
2018, Volume: 101, number: 1, pages: 1-17